Emotional Connections to Water

The unnamed candidate had a problem.

Though not against the idea of clean water—who would be?—he didn’t want to make it a priority in his election campaign.

But on the day before the 2014 Ottawa municipal election, he was frantically calling the Ecology Ottawa offices, trying to convince the organization to post his environmental positions on its website.

In the lead up to the election, Ecology Ottawa developed a candidate survey on the organization’s key project areas, including water. The questions weren’t exactly challenging (one was known internally as the “Would you rather have clean water or a punch in the face?” question), but they didn’t have to be. The point was not to determine whether a candidate likes clean water, but whether they would prioritize clean water.

Nobody is really against water. That’s why water is so difficult to force into the conversation. Like a calm lake, there are no ripples in that statement which would create an opportunity for discussion.

As Canadians, we all agree water is great. This agreement is also, paradoxically, the source of difficulty for anyone trying to improve water quality in a local river, or reduce the flood risk in a nearby neighbourhood. Water advocacy has to find a way to move beyond the blanket statement “clean water is important” to an advocacy model that makes water emotive. Some environmental NGOs are reimagining their water leadership role as one that enables the public to use their own connection with water to enact change.

Read more on the Water Canada Magazine website.

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